Friday was the feast day of Blessed Miguel Pro. He was executed on November 23rd in 1927. Miguel was a Mexican Jesuit priest executed under the presi-dency of Plutarco Calles after trumped up charges were made against him. He was charged with the bombing and attempted assassination of the former Mexican President Alvaro Obregon. Miguel’s arrest, lack of trial, and lack of evidence gained prominence during the Cristero War. Known for his piety and innocence, he was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1988. At the time of his martyrdom Mexico was under the rule of a president who was fiercely anti-clerical and anti-Catholic. Historians have called this period of Mexican history the most “fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.”
Miguel was born in 1891. He was born into a middle class mining family, the third of eleven children. Miguel entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1911. He was noted for his charity and ability to talk about spiritual matters without being boring. He was both a practical joker and prayerful. Miguel studied in Mexico until 1914 when the massive wave of governmental anti-Catholicism forced the novitiate to dissolve causing the Jesuits to flee to California.
The Mexican government of that time prohibited the Church from operating schools, they outlawed all Monastic orders, forbade public worship outside of churches, and priests and religious sisters/brothers were not allowed to wear clerical clothing in public, religious were also denied the right to vote and were not allowed to comment on public affairs in the press.
Miguel was ordained in 1925. His studies were completed a year later and he returned to Mexico. Fr. Miguel served a Church that had been forced under-ground. And he adopted many interesting disguises in carrying out his secret ministry. He would come to houses in the middle of the night dressed as a beggar to baptize infants, to marry couples, and to celebrate Mass. He would appear in jail dressed as a police officer to hear confessions and to bring Holy Viaticum to condemned Catholics. When going to fashionable neighborhoods to get money for the poor, he would show up at the doorstep dressed as a fash-ionable businessman with a flower in his lapel.
Fr. Miguel was a priest in Mexico for about a year before being arrested in early November of 1927 and falsely charged with the bombing and attempted assassination of the former president. There was no trial and he was executed by firing squad. President Calles had the execution meticulously photographed and the newspapers throughout the country carried the photos on the front page. One can still find these photos on the internet, they are very powerful. The President thought that the sight of the pictures would frighten the Cristero rebels into a retreat. It had the opposite effect.
Before his execution Fr. Miguel blessed the soldiers and knelt to pray. He held both a crucifix and a rosary and his arms were stretched out in imitation of Christ Crucified and at the end he shouted, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know that I am innocent! With all my heart I for-give my enemies!” and before the firing squad was ordered to shoot, Fr. Pro shouted out, “Viva Cristo Rey!” – “Long lives Christ the King!”
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. This may seem like an alien concept to us who live in a democracy but it is theologically correct. Our King and the way of life he calls us to is not something that’s voted in or out. Our King is the Lord of our life he is the lord of every aspect of our life (he should be). He governs our private life, our public life, our physical life, our spiritual life, our intellectual life, and he governs all our relationships. Like Blessed Miguel Pro we absolutely submit our lives to the King of the Universe.
In our first reading of Mass from chapter 7 of the Prophet Daniel we read that, “One like a son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.” If we were to read the verses of chapter seven leading up to our first reading we would have read of great beasts of vio-lence rising from the sea. Scholars tell us these creatures represent all earthly kingdoms that have wreaked havoc on the world throughout the centuries. These creatures, these rulers, are brought before the Ancient One; they’re brought before God who passes judgment. The Ancient One gives the Son of Man everlasting dominion that will not be destroyed. This was a distant hope for Daniel but for Christians this prophecy is realized in Jesus Christ the King who reigns over all kings.
In the Gospel we read that our King testifies to the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice. Pope Benedict throughout his pontifi-cate had spoken out against the dictatorship of relativism a way of thinking that seems to govern much of modern life. A way of thinking that says truth is what you want it to be. It’s a private decision. When truth is relativised when there are no moral absolutes, an environment is opened for tyrants to come in and impose their will, to impose their version of truth. Blessed Miguel Pro resisted this, the Cristero movement resisted this. Countless men and women throughout history have resisted tyrants and their false claims of truth.
Now some today would like to limit freedom of religion to freedom of worship only, keep it in the Church on Sunday. But at our Baptism, we were not only anointed as priests meaning we offer fitting worship. But we were also anointed as prophets and kings-which means we witness our faith beyond the church building, and we serve others beyond the church building. Our faith teaches us that we are of service to one another not when we enable each other in soci-ety to sin, but when we help each other not to sin. This is why it’s so important to vote with a true Catholic conscience. This is what religious freedom is really about – freedom to live virtue and avoid vice; our best examples of it are the saints, whose virtue helped to build up civil society as well as the Church; and we live it best when we follow Jesus in listening to his voice, the voice of truth, even when embracing His truth may include embracing the Cross as well.
Christ on the Cross, crowned with thorns, is our image of a King and his Kingdom – life lived for others, even unto death. I’d like to end with a prayer writ-ten by Blessed Miguel Pro:
I believe, O Lord, but strengthen my faith
Heart of Jesus, I love you; but increase my love
Heart of Jesus, I trust in you;
But give greater vigor to my confidence.
Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to you;
But so enclose it in you
That it may never be separated from you.
Heart of Jesus, I am all yours; but take care of my promise
So that I may be able to put it in practice
Even unto the complete sacrifice of my life. Amen.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley